Saturday, July 23, 2011

Henry David Thoreau jailed - 1846

On this day (July 23rd) in 1846, Henry David Thoreau was jailed for not paying his poll tax. Thoreau was almost exactly half-way through his Walden stay, and had come to Concord to pick up a shoe at the cobblers; this came to the attention of Sam Staples, tax collector and warden of the county jail, who was under orders from the town fathers to confront and, if necessary, confine this most contrary of its sons. Thoreau was willing to pay his highway taxes, and generally felt himself to be "as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject," but he saw no choice with tax dollars that might buy "a man, or a musket to shoot one with." Sam Staples had similarly jailed Bronson Alcott three years earlier -- "I believe it was nothing but principle," concluded Sam, "for I never heard a man talk honester" -- but he offered Thoreau a neighborly loan just in case. This Thoreau refused; and he was not happy to hear, the next morning, that his tax had been anonymously paid for him.

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